Research Examines Microplastics in Wild-Caught Fish Near Barrier Reef

Coral Trout. (Image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.)

Microplastics and other man-made fibers have been found in a popular fish species on the Great Barrier Reef. A recent research study is the first to report the presence of microdebris in wild-caught commercial fish in the World Heritage Area. Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville, found 115 items of man-made debris in the gastro-intestinal tracts of 19 out of 20 juvenile coral trout collected on coral reefs at Lizard, Orpheus, Heron and One Tree Islands.

AIMS marine ecologist Dr. Frederieke Kroon said 94% of the items were a mix of semi-synthetic and naturally-derived materials, while only 6% of them were synthetic. As part of the study, AIMS researchers developed a system to clearly identify and classify ingested marine microdebris into three groups; synthetic, semi-synthetic and naturally-derived items.

The study did not examine the potential risk to human consumers, as the items were detected in the fishes’ guts, and guts are traditionally removed before consumption. AIMS researchers are currently examining other seafood species for microplastic contamination.

The source of the microfibers detected in juvenile coral trout is currently unclear and could range from domestic, land-based and/or shipping-based sewage discharges, or international sources that may be delivering fibers to the Great Barrier Reef through oceanic or atmospheric transport.

The research paper, Classification of marine microdebris: A review and case study on fish from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia is published in Scientific Reports. —Australian Institute of Marine Science

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